Tips on how to mix vocals and put some effects like a professional

You can read this tutorial for more details on this technique.

Third Principle: EQ first before Compress

Believe it or not, a vocal does not need serious effects like other instruments. The simpler your effects used, the better will be the produced vocals. It is highly important to EQ first using this setting:

Cut 200 Hz (high pass filter)= -6dB
Boost 3000Hz Q = 1 = 3dB
Boost 15000Hz Q = 1 = 3dB

Take note that if you take the summation of cut and boost, it is literally equal to zero. So if you cut 6dB and I boost 6dB, it does not change the volume. The objective is to preserve the volume by not doing drastic EQ changes.

However, concentrating your EQ work on vocals alone does not make your overall mix sound good. You need to pay attention to other instruments in your mix in such a way they do not compete with the vocal frequency range. You need to drill a hole in other instruments frequency range occupied by the vocals. This would make the vocals to sit properly in the mix.

In this case, I would “strongly recommend” that you read this guide on complete EQ settings to start when doing audio mixing. It contains all starting EQ tips for the most common musical instruments used in the mix. By working on that, you can obtain a very clear vocal in your mix while not compromising the sound quality of your other instruments.

For compression, I’ve shared some techniques here pertaining to vocal compression tips. Personally I like the Sony Wave hammer plug-in in Adobe audio, presets to voice. It produces some of my finest mixed vocals.

Also, I am using Waves C4 compressor and pop vocal preset. It simplifies all compression settings you need to do for your vocals.

Fourth principle: Be very conservative with reverb

Frankly, the mix vocals I used has a very low amounts of reverb. This could be due to the fact that I am mixing for rock, country and pop which audible reverb is not very popular unlike in other genre.

But not only that, having low amounts of reverb makes the vocals stood up and sounds very strong (in your face). You can easily captivate the listener with strong vocals with low amounts of reverb. I use Sony ExpressFX Reverb, set to Plate reverbs. Plate reverbs is highly recommended for vocals and only set it:

Room size: 30
Liveliness: 10~15
%Original (dry mixing) = 85%~90%
%Reverb = 15%~10%

Also I use reverb plug-ins from Waves and Focusrite, they do sound great and I would recommend setting the wet percentage at 30% to 40% at a start. But this plug-ins are not free, also if you buy some Focusrite audio interface, you can get a free Focusrite plug-in suite that includes the reverb plug-in.

One great way of learning how to apply reverberation effects is to listen to an actual sample. You can read this tutorial adding vocal reverb. It contains some important illustration and audio samples about how vocals could change with different reverb settings.

Then once you apply some setting; listen very carefully to the mix and avoid over-doing the implementation of reverb. Sometimes a small reverb is enough, in some applications moderate reverb is also necessary. One of the golden rules of implementing reverb on vocal mixing are as follows:

a.) Very slow ballads (slow tempo songs) – moderate reverb.
b.) Fast tempo songs (punk rock, alternative music, country music, etc.) – low reverb or even no reverb. Feel free to experiment what sounds appropriate for the mix.
c.) Moderate tempo – moderate amounts of reverb.

Do not be obsessed with reverb settings, use your ears to judge the setting. It is also important that you consider the blending of vocals and its reverberation with the rest of the instruments in the mix. You cannot implement the same reverb settings on all tracks otherwise it would sound squashed and muddy.

In this case, you should learn how to apply reverb to a mix properly. You can read a tutorial about this topic here. And then you will learn that different instruments need different reverb settings. It is being influenced by the following factors:

a.) The track location in the stereo field
b.) Tempo of the song,
c.) Genre
d.) Natural frequency of the instruments.

Content last updated on October 22, 2012

  • disqus_7S3oOdhT2L

    clogged it

  • Emerson Maningo

    Agreed. Panning exactly the same mono recording from LEFT and RIGHT does not contribute something better to the stereo ambiance of the music. It needs to have some contrast to make a difference. It is why double recording and overdubs are important in modern music production.

  • Daniel Esuh

    I that feel panning strings either hard left or right may not supply the necessary surround to stereo, mostly if u r listenin with headphone. It will be a one directional sound , favouring one side.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Jason, I’m glad to know you find it helpful. Yeah me too; before it is hard to learn recording and mixing without some initial sets of rules/settings. I do it in the hard way before. I spend months experimenting what sounds great at least to my ears. The tips in this blog and this tutorial is definitely a product of experimentation. I shared it to others in the hope that they can save time and they have something to start with. Happy New Year!

  • Jason Michael Lees

    LOL I meant ears not eyes.

  • Jason Michael Lees

    Ive never heard someone say u MUST boost/cut at __hz or khz or that u must EQ before compress (or even the other way around). A lot of recording is subjective and, depending on the vocalist and the sound your going for, things can be done in a million diff ways.

    However, its nice to see someone give some TIPS on a sound that THEY like. A lot of tutorials will tell tell u what I just said….”experiment!”, “do what sounds right”, “there are no rules so use your eyes” lol. So its nice to see some SPECIFIC advise and I’ll def bookmark this page and try out those settings 🙂

  • Matthew Nabua

    OK thanks. Just beep me back if you know!!!:)

  • Emerson Maningo

    I never mixed vocals in rap so I cannot write a tutorial for this. But the details and principles are shown in this post. EQ and compression for rap vocals is similar to those used in other genre. But I will look into this,probably i will try mixing some rap vocals to see how things work.

  • Matthew Nabua

    mmmm..
    can I have a favor?
    can you write the steps in mixing vocals in rap?
    plsss

  • Emerson Maningo

    No. You will simply boost around 3dB gain with Q=1. This is not a shelf adjustment.

  • Brett Brocoy

    regarding the Boost 15000Hz Q = 1 = 3dB, is that with a shelf?

  • Emerson Maningo
  • iyk-N

    Hi Emerson,
    Love your blog so much, want to know if its necessary using the send fx channel in adding reverb or delay, and whats the work of the send effects channel?

  • Emerson Maningo

    Actually what if the voice is baritone or alto, bass? Applying a 400Hz high pass filter might attenuate a portion (although not everything) of these low frequency vocals significantly. Then the result is that the vocals sound so thin. Then this setting is not for everyone.

  • Simon

    Hi

    Love these blogs and tips, I was wondering if anyone knows how to run a 400Hz High Pass filter on Adobe Audition for Mac…

    According to production guru Dave Foxx, pretty much all the music is going on below 400hz therefore a high pass filter on the voice would make it sit better in promos etc

    Hope you can help!

  • Emerson Maningo

    Yeah probably but you cannot assume those are the best settings. You should use your ear to adjust and experiment. I know it takes time but that’s the only way to really correct audio problems. For your second point, if you cut it does the nasality of the voices gone? If yes, then problem solved, if not sweep the EQ around and find the best cutting spot.

    Best on my experience, somewhere around 800Hz and 3000Hz are the frequencies to check. Always use your ears to judge the correctness of an EQ setting.

  • vibhu

    Great blog.

    Rather newbie question: I am using Logic Pro. I am only planning to use the software instruments – and I noticed that these have EQ and compression already set (and some more settings). So when I record my audio, I apply EQ and compression (and some reverb) to my audio track only, and avoid altering instrument settings – because I assume these are the best settings for the instruments. Is this ok?

    Second point: I have a nasal voice, so I cut frequencies at 1500 and 3500 with a Q of 1, -9 dB. Is this OK?

    I’ll try to post some recordings, but my compositions will sound a bit different because these are not in english, and the scales are not standard western music scales.

    Again, great blog. Keep it going. Best wishes.

  • Jamtaktics

    OK, Ill try this again, cause my comment got rejected last time :P…I think that I’m recording well with one mic, but I want the opinion of a professional. Please look at least one of my songs… and give me some tips, cause I still don’t feel like I’m where I need to be
    thank you!

    link to page: soundcloud.com/jamtaktics

  • Emerson Maningo

    Yes, if it sounds good then its right. Lead vocals are often pan in the center while the backup vocals are either left or right. You may want to make closer to the center like 20% to 30%.

  • Moses

    Hi Emerson,I mix vocals by leaving the lead voice at the centre and pan the backup voices 40% right and left.Is this Right?

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Ron,
    Of course, its not a one size fits all EQ , any audio mixer will know. Its because the moment they set at 200Hz cutoff then the vocal does not sound good. It is a sign that the setting itself is not optimal. So it make sense to sweep the filter freq to find the optimum spot. I used that 200Hz cutoff for a specific vocalist, it will be different for other singers. It is because some singers might have high or less bass content in their vocals. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

  • Ron

    Good basic settings, but a one size fits all EQ, particularly a recommendation to cut vocals below 200hz is not at all good. I’d rather advise a person to sweep that filter freq from 200Hz to the minus side until excessive bass is rolled off. A 200hz fixed cut for all voices, all genres is a recipe for disaster. There are times when you can roll off below 80-100 and acually give a gentle boost at 200 with a high Q (narrow bandwidth). All depends on voices and genres.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Mon,
    You can read this tutorial: https://www.audiorecording.me/recording-vocals-at-home-in-mono-or-stereo-how-to-record-vocals-properly.html. I hope it clarifies everything. Thanks.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Mon,
    I will write a tutorial about this..Thanks for your feedback.

  • Mon

    Hello Emerson,

    I can’t find anywhere else to post this question.

    It’s about recording vocals. Most other forums I’ve read says that MONO should be for vocal recording.
    DO you record vocals in mono?

    Thanks again for the help.

    Mon

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Falgunan,
    I have added a new section on how to use this website, it includes guides on how to start recording from start to finish and that includes mixing. I am on the process of creating the mastering guide but you can start using it. This is the URL: https://www.audiorecording.me/getting-started-course-outline-in-tracking-and-mixing.html
    Thanks. Cheers.

  • Hulinning

    Have you ever used multi-band compressor for tunning live vocal? If yes, how do you do it?
    thanks

  • falgunan martinez

    enjoyed your blog a lot! im a newbie in recording like a pro but im already using adobe audition for months LOL! im thankful I tried searching for guides like yours! but I hope you do also have guides on where and how should I start recording upto finish! thx and hoping for your reply!

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Diego,
    Your tips are definitely helpful and I agree with it. There are times when I take out breathing (or minimize) if its too excessive and distracting to listen.. Yeah about recording vocals hot and I never record at -3dB to 0dB range. Instead I adjust volumes to make sure it peaks around -10dB to -8dB for the loudest vocal peak of the tracks which is fine and a lot of headroom. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  • Diego Avendano

    I like the tips though I felt differently on a few things.

    1. I would never record vocals as hot as possible before clipping. That would be shooting yourself in the foot. If you plan on mixing these vocals and compressing them you completely destroyed your headroom. I feel vocals should be recorded right in the middle. Not too hot and not too low due to ground noise.

    2. I would ever take out breathing in vocals. It makes the vocals sound real. Without the breathing it leaves the vocals sounding artificial. The editing that should be done should be extra noise in the begining and end of every take with a fade in and out.

    3. I agree with the idea of not too much reverb but i feel your wet mix in reverb should be at 100% and adjust the levels from your fx sends. This is because of phasing.

    thanks for this blog

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Essentialz,
    Wow, I just can hardly believe you have basically complete the recording using a laptop, mic and little preamp. I did hear your songs in Youtube and the following are my constructive comments that can further improve the quality of your recording:

    a. Fat bass drum- you need to cut down the fat bass frequencies at 400 Hz, Q=2.0 , cut it with -6dB to -9dB. This will make the bass sounds so fat. You do not need to compress your fat bass drum. So you need to balance the fat bass drum not to be too dominant in your mix.

    b. Vocals – your vocals sounds too hot. You can either lower the vocals volume just a bit in order to balance with the rest of the instruments.

    c. The EQ of your vocals is already OK.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Essentialz

    Hey I’m gonna leave a link to my YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/officialessentialz . Ive been recording for a while with just my laptop, mic with pop filter and little preamp that i picked up. If any could listen and has some tips please help me out, i would really appreciate it.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Bigsean,
    What a cool beat man! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcsLcnlY0rc , keep up the good work.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi BigSean,
    No question about purchasing condenser microphones for recording excellent vocals. It is the standard way of recording vocals for professional recording studios, those big studios used by the recording labels.
    But, is there a big difference? The answer is NO, based on my experience, with proper miking, EQ, compression and mixing techniques, listeners does not care whether the vocals has been recorded with condenser or not. You can record great vocals using dynamic microphones and with proper techniques applied (discused in this blog), there is no big difference provided you know how to work with it during recording and mixing sessions.

  • BigSean Music

    By the way; this is my YouTube page i would love to hear some feedback about my music in general thank u: http://www.youtube.com/kind1277

  • BigSean Music

    hey emerson i really really enjoy and learn from this god bless u man god bless u i have one question plz …is there a big difference between the dynamic and condencer? cuz im having a dynamic mic and i wanna make excellent vocals is it possible?

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Daniel The Translator,
    Sorry it takes me a long time to reply, I’ve been very busy for the past weeks, anyway I have listen to “Egipto” and “Chinesa” here: palcoprincipal.sapo.pt/dharma , is that the songs you mean? All I can say is that they are fairly good rock recordings, though it seems that the drums lost some punch. But the vocals are considered OK for a rock recording (partially buried in the mix). However the songs can be improve.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Bill,
    A high pass filter is a filter that allows to pass all frequencies above a certain cutoff while attenuates frequencies below it. If you have a high pass filter set at 100 Hz, it will attenuate below 100 Hz while passes above that frequency value.

    Low is around 50Hz to 150 Hz ,mid-low is around 150 Hz to 400 Hz , mid is around 500Hz to 4000 Hz. Mid-High is around 4000 Hz to 9000Hz, High is around 10000Hz to 16,000Hz.

  • Bill

    Could you please explain EQ..

    What is a high pass filter and what frequency goes with it as well as lows,low mids, mids.

    Im very confused.

    Thanx

  • Daniel The Translator

    Hi Emerson. Thanks for everything. You can listen to our two songs at: palcoprincipal.com/dharma It’s the two first songs on the playlist. Keep in mind that the drums were recorded with four vocals mics. Tell me what you think. Best regards.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Translator,
    No probs,once your recording is done, upload it to your music page, it could be any like MySpace, come back to this blog and send me a message. I will check that out.
    Thanks for reading my blog.

    Cheers.

  • The Translator

    Hey. How are you? Great blog man. I mean, I've been like searching for this since ever lol. Awesome work man. Thanks for this, really. My band has just finished its first recording, and I'm in charge of producing it, but, well, it's my first time. I'm using Adobe Audition and Reaper, and a ton of Plug-Ins. If I have any doubts, can I send a comment and ask you? Wouldn't you mind? I promise to send the songs when they're done 🙂 Hugz from Portugal.

  • Emerson Maningo

    Hi Keith, thanks for following the blog post! Anyway I do agree with different EQ needed depending on the vocalist.

    However, this is looks like a case to case mixing scenario.

    Intelligibility of human voice is very critical at 3KHz range which I prefer to have boosted to get some presence in vocals for clarity of the lyrics..

    Again a case to case mixing scenario and you provided me a good example such as nazal sounding vocalist.

  • Keith Everette Smith

    I enjoy the blogs! I’m a little confused as to how you could recommend a “one size fits all” approach to EQing a vocal? Of all the instruments, it’s the most complex. Different EQ is needed depending on the vocalist. I’m sure you know this and you’re trying to give people some pointers, but these settings are not universal. In fact, if you have a nazal sounding vocalist, you may have to cut 3khz to smooth it out, not add 3db at 3k. hmm.

    Just my thoughts. Keep ’em comin’!